Last month I discussed anxiety and stress in horses and I would like to expand on with this subject having seen many horses showing stress linked disorders.
Anxiety and stress are created by a set of circumstances that disrupt the physiological processes involved in the functioning of the body. When the mind is in an anxious state it’s capable of causing some devastating effects that can quickly manifest into behavioural issues and subsequent physiological problems.
When the horse is confronted with a situation that evokes a fear response, it responds with a set of physiological reactions that prepares it to meet the threat of fight or flight. These reactions are controlled by the secretion of adrenalin. The presence of adrenalin in the body causes respiration to deepen, speeding up the heart rate and raising arterial pressure. Blood is moved away from the stomach and intestines, stopping digestive function, and is redirected to the heart, central nervous system and muscles. The secreted adrenalin cooperates with sympathetic nerve impulses which send a message to the liver to release stored glycogen to enable the blood to be flooded with sugar which will be directed to the muscles, heart and limbs for the preparation of intense physical activity needed for flight. The blood sugars invigorate tired muscles preparing the horse for action.
Under normal circumstances the increased respiration, redistributed blood and the red corpuscles provides essential oxygen for the removal of waste products. However in extreme circumstances, when the horse is subjected to stress over long periods, the body becomes over adrenalized; as a result the digestive system is unable to take in enough nutrients and the animal becomes thin and wasted, whilst other excretory organs are overloaded and weakened. Even though this is an extreme example it’s important to remember that there can be varying levels of these physiological symptoms present in the body and, given that equine digestive system requires continuous trickle feeding, it’s easy to see the dangers of anxiety and stress in causing potential damage in an animal with a small stomach that accounts for only 8 – 10% of the digestive system and has to cope with small amounts of food travelling through it. Unlike us, the horse produces hydrochloric acid continually so one of the effects of adrenalin in the body is that it shuts down the blood supply to the digestive system potentially causing acidic conditions and other complications.
Considering the interconnectedness of the various systems within the body, it’s easier to understand the viewpoint of Natural Medicine in treating the whole body in order to regain the balance of its function.
When making decisions on medications, it’s important to remember that the individuality of horses is no different from that of humans. Each of us has a unique set of requirements to maintain our health depending on factors ranging from genetic predisposition to acquired physical and psychological symptoms that influence the development of characteristics, behaviour, conformation and general demeanour. These are important factors when formulating treatments and the selection of herbs used for any individual medication should take this into consideration. It’s important to know exactly how each horse reacts under stressful circumstances because that can give me some idea of the medications needed. Some horses react with digestive issues, some with high heart rate, whilst others have a combination of reactions. Natural Therapies work exceedingly well when all these aspects are taken into consideration and can bring about some astounding results in restoring balance in all aspects of physical and mental health.